In "Aquaman" #15, Geoff Johns and Paul Pelletier continue the "Throne of Atlantis" crossover begun in "Justice League" #15, in a grand story that draws in most of the DCU's heavyweights. Crossovers often end up feeling like a collection of chaotic battle mash-ups within a thin narrative frame, but Johns succeeds in making his story feel substantial by focusing "Throne of Atlantis" heavily on one character. The central conflict between Atlantis and the surface world is Aquaman's internal conflict writ large, as if his past caught up with his present in a nightmare.
Pelletier's art captures this dream-like, bottled-up conflict well, opening up with a lovely silent sequence of Gotham deluged and the Bat Signal luminously cast through water. "Aquaman" #15 is well-orchestrated, with Johns' pacing and suspense reinforced by Pelletier's panel compositions, which feel full of action without being too crowded. Colorist Rod Reis keeps his palette simple for a setting constantly contained within torrential downpour. His palette of turquoise, teal, grays and sudden warm pops of orange-red work well for the maelstrom in "Aquaman" #15, adding atmosphere and minimizing visual clutter, keeping the tone grim and operatic.
"Aquaman" #16's story is entrancing in the slower character moments, like when Batman gets Aquaman to open up, extracting information for himself and the reader. The conflict at the heart of "Throne of Atlantis" is an old conundrum -- Aquaman is pressed to choose between two parts of himself.
As a brother and fellow Atlantean royalty, Ocean Master/Orm is a foil to Arthur, and his raging bull-like leadership and his lack of understanding about the surface world is successfully played up for comic relief. Orm is more cute than threatening, especially when he demands to be brought to his opponent's king, like a cartoon alien. The stupefied looks he gets in response made me laugh, and are a credit to Pelletier's facial expressions and timing. Orm's plaintive question to Arthur, "If you aren't ruling them...then what have you been doing up here?" is a hilarious, welcome drop of humor in "Aquaman" #15's sea of somber tension.
Aquaman's allies fare worse in the foul weather. Superman, Wonder Woman and even Batman are annoyingly high-handed, bull-headed and two-dimensional in "Aquaman" #15. It is plain that there is a villain playing the Justice League and Atlantis like chess pieces, and with so many strategy-savvy, battle-worn heroes, it's odd that there is only one superpowered voice of reason who can see the situation for what it is -- an engineered misunderstanding between sovereign states or kingdoms.
Johns places Aquaman at the center of "Throne of Atlantis," and Arthur's desire for peaceful reconciliation obviously has the moral upper hand. Given this clear setup, there was no need to make Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman dense and patronizing to make Aquaman look better by contrast. In particular, Superman and Wonder Woman must also know what it means to be divided between humanity and other hometowns. In his eagerness to build Aquaman up, Johns may neglect the rest of the cast. The Trinity's distrust has justification, given their knowledge of Arthur's past, but overall, the cliffhanger ending of "Aquaman" #15 is simplistic and manipulative.
"Throne of Atlantis" has a lot of strengths as an epic crossover narrative, and it's worth picking up "Justice League" #15 and "Aquaman" #15 for the pacing, dialogue and atmosphere. I hope that as "Throne of Atlantis" further unfolds, the internal and external conflicts will take more surprising turns.